Counterpoint: Opportunity exists to clean up, protect South Canyon | PostIndependent.com

Counterpoint: Opportunity exists to clean up, protect South Canyon

Steve Beckley
Guest Opinion

There have been a lot of opinions shared since I went before the Glenwood Springs City Council proposing an option to lease land in South Canyon to conduct a feasibility study for possible development.

I appreciate and share in the interest to clean up and protect this part of our valley and would like to share some facts and insights about it.

Unsafe, unsanitary conditions

Mr. Olp's description of the land around the South Canyon Hot Springs is inaccurate. The idealist description of wildlife roaming around the hot springs in a pristine environment is completely misleading. In fact, the area around the hot springs is best described as a place where people back up their vehicles and dump trash into the South Canyon Creek. The walking trail to the hot springs is littered with broken bottles, old clothing, cans and human waste.

In our preliminary analysis, we hired consultants to take water samples from the hot springs. The E. coli level from the spring itself was zero, but the E. coli level in the pool was 1,986 colonies per 100ml. In comparison, public beaches are closed when levels reach 86 colonies per 100ml. At 23 times the legal limit of E. coli, these hot springs pools are extremely contaminated and unsafe.

If our development plans move forward, we will contract water engineers to develop a plan to revitalize South Canyon Creek and enhance the ecosystem.

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Taking responsibility for the hot springs

I love going to "wild" hot springs and have visited many such locations around the country. In many with similar circumstances, where there is public access to hot springs, there's a group of volunteers that serve as custodians to keep the site free of trash and healthy. That component is missing in this case. I believe that the users of the South Canyon Hot Springs are responsible for maintaining the springs. The city has many other more important duties such as maintaining infrastructure.

Our plans to develop the land surrounding the hot springs would include a full-time, on-site employee. This person would police the area to prevent dumping and deter the illegal and dangerous activities that take place there currently.

Potential development of the site

The city owns approximately 3,000 acres in South Canyon; our project will only utilize around 25 acres, or less than 1 percent of the land. In comparison, the gun club covers about 300 acres.

This limited development will allow for the vast majority of the land to be open to wildlife and all of the low-impact uses that Mr. Olp described.

Our development plans do not impact the old town site below the mine. This location could have further potential for the Frontier Historic Society to develop tours.

Existing uses in the canyon such as the gun range, archery range and landfill will not be impacted by our development. In fact, it would enhance the other activities in the area by providing contained places to camp. In addition, we will work with the mountain bike community to coordinate new mountain bike trails that complement our development.

Public input part of the plan

Our agreement with the city allows us to take 18 months to study the canyon, the hot water resource and the impacts of our development before we start construction. During that time, we will hold public open houses to share our plans and gather input from the citizens of Glenwood Springs and surrounding municipalities.

Protect and preserve

When my wife Jeanne and I were given the opportunity to open Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves after 82 years of neglect, our first priority was to reseal the cave entrance and do everything possible to return it to a healthy state. We added airlocks to maintain the humidity levels and temperature of the cave and installed monitors to ensure that the integrity of the ancient formations is protected.

I'm proud to say that the cave is healthy, growing and thriving under our care. We also teach the importance of conservation to thousands of students each year to encourage future generations to be good stewards of our natural resources.

It is my vision that with a similar dedication to care and preservation, South Canyon can become a valuable asset to the community that provides additional recreation options for residents and visitors.

Steve Beckley is co-owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and is proposing to develop the city-owned hot springs site in South Canyon.